Beginning in mid-September 2015, student protests at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) reportedly turned violent, involving destruction of campus property, threats and attacks on students, and leading to a temporary closure of the university.
The student protests were reportedly related to grievances about financial aid, student accommodations and other administrative issues. Although an email from a student group called for a “peaceful protest”, and a boycott of academic activities including lectures and exams, a number of violent incidents reportedly occurred on KZN campuses. Protesters reportedly damaged buildings, broke windows and water pipes, in addition to chasing students out of lectures and spraying them with a fire extinguisher. In connection with these protests, academic activity on campus was suspended for two weeks, before university administrators met with student union representatives in an effort to resolve the conflict.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent or destructive protests on campus. While students have the right to free expression, that right does not extend to violence, intimidation of other students, or destruction of campus property; on-campus expression must be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with university values including social responsibility. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent and destructive actions on campus undermine academic freedom and institutional autonomy.